• 20Dec

    The Studio Report: Rough Magic Studios

    “I wish someone could just look me in the eye and see how badly I just want to make albums”, says Albert Cohen, Engineer and Sr Partner at Rough Magic Studios in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood.

    “That’s what I want to do. I want to record something. I want to see it through until it gets mastered. I want to feel proud of that band that’s going out there and promoting that album. That’s what I care about.”

    It’s impossible not to appreciate the passion Alby carries for creating music. It’s impressive, inspiring even, resonating through every anecdote and back story he shares about his profession and the progress made by his studio home.

    Founded by Doug Martin and Louie Ames in 2003, Rough Magic Studios is located in Greenpoint’s Pencil Factory. 16 terra cotta pencils point skyward, lining the tips of the columns segmenting the hawking brick structure that originally housed the headquarters of 19th century pencil manufacturer, Faber Company. The building is iconic in a sense, one of many historic warehouses-turned-condo-slash-commercial-office-space that now defines the North Brooklyn neighborhood.

    “We built this studio from nothing”, Alby says, describing the third floor studio. “These walls didn’t exist. We built the place up. Doug did a lot of the work early on. I helped him. I used my salesmanship and my rolodex of musicians and made some calls. I was relentless.”

    Born in Bergen County, New Jersey, Alby studied jazz and music business at Goddard College in Vermont. “I moved to Ithaca [New York] where a bunch of my friends were”, he says. “I ended up falling into a band, [Damn Brandy]. We weren’t actually the tightest band ever but I loved touring. That realization sort of got me to where I am now.”

    Following Damn Brandy’s 2002 disbanding, writers block set in for Alby. But since his nine-to-fives were spent working for an advertising agency and his nine-through-nights were spent working at Rough Magic honing his skills as an engineer, he was still around the music. “If I’m still in the studio, I can still work with musicians and my input is still there”, he says. “Maybe I’m a better engineer and producer than I am the actual one playing it. This is maybe just the most effective way that I make music.”

    Then came the opportunity of a lifetime:

    “In 2008, right when the recession hit in October, my job was no longer in the company I worked at so I decided to take a chance”, he describes. “It was a week after my 30th birthday and I said now or never. If I really want to do this then I should do this now.”

    Alby’s “now or never” moment mirrors that of millions of late-twenty-early-thirty-somethings nationwide: maneuvering through the murky remnants of the Great Recession, pimping a layoff into a brand new career path — one that’s closer to passion than profit. And Rough Magic Studios is an ideal launch pad.

    The lush, third floor studio feels as though it’s designed to tap into an artist’s creative juices. By design, it’s somewhere between “super studio and some guys closet”. Burgundy colored velvet curtains drape floor to ceiling line one wall, a proper leather couch and a grungy, wooden coffee table line another, facing the massive command center where the artist’s rough magic is engineered. The adjacent recording booth is arranged to allow all band members to record together organically, without separation.

    “There’s a lot studios that break you apart, send you into different rooms”, says Alby.

    “You might be able to see each other, but that’s one way to do it. What we sort of did was this organic thing — how much can we do based on our budget that’s going to give us the most bang for the buck. What this place offers is the ability for artists to get a high end recording and not have to spend money that’s beyond they’re means.”

    Although Rough Magic emphasizes the affordability of it’s studio sessions, oddly, the website fails to list hourly rates to record. Alby’s even noticeably cagey about providing estimates, preferring to discuss directly with artists during the negotiating process.

    “We don’t post our rates because there are a million factors involved”, he says. “A lot of people don’t realize that clock never stops ticking in a lot of studios. Oh you wanted a session guy? That’s going to cost you an extra 2-300 dollars. It’s a positive thing when everyone has that understanding at the beginning.”

    “We don’t want to turn people away, either because if we really do think someone has a lot of talent, we’re into the idea of developing an artist”, he says, describing the slippery slope between free studio time in exchange for publishing rights — a tactic many studios use to ensnare clientele while supplementing costs.

    “I personally don’t think it’s moral for me to say I didn’t write this song but I’m going to give you all this free recording time and make your album so I want 50 percent of your publishing. I sort of did that once with an artist and I didn’t hear from them again. I went to a friend and said ‘What did I do wrong?’ and [he replied] ‘But you’re taking their song away from them’. So it’s a lesson that you learn but the question is, how do you make money doing that?”

    How does any studio turn a profit in the midst of an economic recession and technological advancements that literally allow anyone to make an album on their laptop computers? How does any studio expand it’s customer base without publishing lower rates, or any rates at all? As Alby views it, a quality product, a positive word-of-mouth reputation and strategic diversification is what’s most important.

    “I’ve done some really good work for a band called Hunters Run, a Brooklyn based band”, he states proudly. I just finished up a lot of work on [Talib] Kweli’s record, [Gutter Rainbows], that’s going to be coming out in January [2011]. I’ve been helping out Consequence. Fyre Dept’s [who produced 50 Cent’s “My Gun Go Off] been doing some stuff. I want to really develop the Hip Hop side of it.”

    And ultimately Rough Magic banks on the capabilities, the personalities and the passion of it’s staff to separate itself from the rest. Alby wants nothing more than to produce great albums.

    “That’s why I’m here doing this”, he says passionately. “Twenty years from now, I want there to be some sort of legacy. I’d love to have a thousand albums under my belt and say, ‘Take your pick. I made a thousand of them, thousands of songs that people can listen to.’”

    Rough Magic Studios
    61 Greenpoint Avenue, #314
    Brooklyn, NY 11222
    Tel: (718) 383-3813
    Fax: (718) 383-3814

Discussion 4 Responses

  1. December 20, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    “In 2008, right when the recession hit in October, my job was no longer in the company I worked at so I decided to take a chance”, he describes. “It was a week after my 30th birthday and I said now or never. If I really want to do this then I should do this now.”

    This line resonates with me all too much.

  2. December 20, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    holler at you’re boy alby!

  3. December 21, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Love me some Rough Magic!!!

  4. March 14, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    [...] Brooklyn Bodega (article is in this link) has written an article about Rough Magic Studios and interviewed ME about my production and engineering work. Click the link to read on. [...]